Kosher Meat From Humanely Treated Animals

By Hannah Lee

The novelist and biologist Barbara Kingsolver wrote about her family’s decision to eat only meat from humanely raised animals in her 2007 memoir, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life.  Merion resident Rachel Loonin was inspired by reading Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals, also published in 2007, and she wanted healthy meat for her family that’s free of hormones, from animals allowed to eat what they’re meant to eat — grass, in contrast to conventionally raised cattle which eat genetically modified corn — and free of antibiotics.  She found it through Grow and Behold Foodswhich has been delivering kosher, pasture-raised beef to the Philadelphia area since last summer.

Naftali and Anna Hanau and a pet chicken

Its founder, Naftali Hanau, is a shochet (ritual slaughterer), m’naker (ritual butcher), farmer, and horticulturist.  While spending a summer at Adamah, a Jewish environmental leadership training center in northwest Connecticut, and learning about the ethical and environmental issues surrounding modern meat production, Hanau realized that for kosher Jews, there was no source for meat that abided by such values.  So, he set out to study shechitah, the practice of kosher slaughter, in Crown Heights, New York, and Scranton, Pennsylvania, and he has studied at butcher shops and slaughterhouses across the country.  His company provides OU-certified Glatt Kosher meat from  animals raised on small family farms.  It works with farmers who adhere to high standards of animal welfare, worker treatment, and sustainable agriculture.

The difference from conventional meat production is varied and nuanced: Grow and Behold sources its animals from farms near its processing facilities to minimize the time that the animals spend on a truck, being transported from the farm for processing.  At its slaughterhouses, the pace is slow enough to ensure that workers treat animals with respect, using the animal-handling guidelines developed by Dr. Temple Grandin to ensure that the animals are calm and stress-free from the moment they arrive at its facility throughout the shechitah process.  Its workers neither use electric cattle prods nor the shackle-and-hoist slaughter method, a cruel practice standard in South America where nearly all the other grass-fed kosher meat is produced for the U.S. market.  It regularly inspects the farms and reserves the right to inspect without notice at any time of the year.

As for business ethics, Grow and Behold pays its farmers prices that are generally above the national averages; it operates in small-scale slaughterhouses where employee safety is a top concern; it works with processors that pay their workers fair wages; and it respects Jewish halachic guidelines in all aspects of business, including strict standards of kashrut and ethical labor practices.

Now providing beef, chicken, and turkey, Hanau has not yet found a source for lamb that abides by their principles.  All of the unprocessed meat is always kosher for Passover, even if there is no specific “Kosher for Passover” marking on the package.

Loonin likes their Sara’s Spring Chicken (named for Hanau’s grandmother because it reminded her of the fresh fowl from her youth in Poland), which she cooks for Shabbat, using the chicken bones for soup.  She orders beef bones for stock and, following the teachings of Dr. Weston Price, she boils the bones for a minimum of 4 hours to draw out the nutrients.  Loonin also buys their flanken (aka as short ribs) for her Shabbat cholent. She orders enough to fill her freezer until the next monthly delivery date.  She says its meat is more gamey than conventional meat but it’s very tasty.

The cooking times for pastured meat is not much different than for conventional meat, but lean turkey does cook faster.  The chicken is best cooked at a lower, slower temperature.  Hanau prefers his beef rare.  The chicken is schecht (slaughtered) once a month and is delivered frozen.  If you’re pressed for time, Hanau says it’s safe to defrost in cold water, in its original packaging.  A small chicken will defrost in an hour.

Beef has been available since June, and its sale has been growing faster than the sale of chicken.  Whereas pastured chicken is about twice the cost of conventional kosher meat, beef is not as expensive, it’s comparable to high-end conventional kosher meat.  Hanau says people seem more willing to spend more on beef, maybe because “they didn’t understand the difference in how chicken is raised.”   The demand for turkey is not as high as for chicken, but for large holiday gatherings, Hanau says cooking one turkey is easier than cooking three or four chickens.

Grow and Behold Foods meats are not certified as organic because “the cost of certification is often too high” for the small farmers to bear and because Hanau feels the organic standards are not truly in line with what he feels are the best practices for raising animals.  For example, “USDA organic standards allow a chicken to be raised in near total confinement and fed nothing but organic corn and still be called ‘free-range organic.’  Those practices are unacceptable to us: we want the animals to be outside and enjoy life in their natural setting.   All of our poultry is raised on pasture when weather permits.  Our cows spend the majority of their lives on pasture as well.  We strive to always use the best possible practices, including encouraging our producers to use GMO- and chemical-free feeds whenever possible.”  These animals never receive growth hormones or routine doses of prophylactic antibiotics, which are necessary in the large feedlots where cattle are overcrowded and prone to stress-induced illnesses.   They’re fed a vegetarian diet– no animal by-products– consisting of a balance of hay, grass, and grain.

When Loonin first started buying organic chicken, her husband was in medical school, and she economized by serving it only when they were alone on Shabbat.  Now, she’s learned to serve smaller portions to everyone, even when they have guests.  She has chosen quality meat over quantity.  Loonin serves her family vegetarian meals during the week but they try to eat ethically all week long.

In addition to individual customers, Grow and Behold also sells meat wholesale to local restaurants such as Zahav (although it is not a kosher establishment).

The company ships nationwide by FedEx, going as far as Missouri, Texas, and Florida.  Packed in dry ice and insulated coolers, meat that is shipped from their East New York warehouse (close to the JFK airport) at 4 or 5 pm can be delivered the next day by 9 or 10 am.  FedEx by air is more expensive, so Hanau recommends a buying club for customers in San Francisco, Oakland, Los Angeles, Seattle, and St. Louis.  In Philadelphia, the delivery charge is $5 per order.  Local pick-up stops are: Adath Israel in Merion, Keneseth Israel in Elkins Park, Germantown Jewish Center in Mount Airy, Mechor Habracha in Center City, and Kellman Brown Academy in Voorhees, New Jersey.  The next local delivery date is Thursday, February 23; orders due by 10pm on Tuesday, February 21.  Questions can be addressed to the company at:


The Low Cost of America’s Food

I recently came upon a thoughtful piece from Dr. Janet Chrzan of the Department of Anthropology at the University of Pennsylvania and Founder of the Oakmont Farmers’ Market in Havertown, PA. Chrzan wrote about an experiment she did (as a mental break from her academic writing) about the cost of food. While trolling through old advertisements on the Philadelphia Inquirer, she found one from 1951 advertising Thanksgiving turkeys for 73 cents per pound. That caught her eye because it’s so much more than what they cost nowadays at the supermarkets. She assumed it was used as a “loss leader,” a retail term that depicts merchandise used to entice shoppers to step into the store and at a price that may not actually reflect the costs. She recalled that the price last Thanksgiving was 39 cents per pound, which she remembers because she tracks loss leaders, comparing them with the prices at the farmers’ market she runs.

Using an online calculator, she translated the old advertised price into 2011 dollars, arriving at $6.40 per pound, based on inflation of 3.68%. Conversely, 39 cents in 2011 translates into 4 cents per pound in 1951. “Wow,” she wrote, “that demonstrates just how much industrial farming has decreased the cost of food over 60 years…but it also puts into perspective the value of the turkeys that my turkey farmer produces, using methods similar to the methods used in 1951. He charges $3.50 a pound for pastured hormone-and-antibiotic — free birds, almost half the comparable price of the loss leader of 1951. And the turkeys taste really good.”

Chrzan invited me to her home to discuss this topic further. She reminisced about the first year her market offered pastured (free-range), non-kosher turkeys for $3 per pound from Axel Linde of Linderhof Farms in Lancaster County, PA, and she worried about her patrons’ welcome because Havertown is in a mixed-income district. To her amazement, they took in over 400 orders that year (2007) and patrons raved later about the taste of the meat.

The traditional cost of food (before the 20th century) was about 25-50% of a family’s income, which still holds for the developing nations. However, the U.S. government has a strategic policy of heavily subsidizing the production costs of meat, cooking oil, and sugar (through the soy and corn crops), to promote the purchase of consumer goods. Vegetables, even from large producers, are not subsidized. Altogether, the cost of food as a percentage of median income has dropped from 33% in 1910 to about 9% today — and that includes the cost of eating outside of the home and the spending of poor families. This statistic is lower than at any time in U.S. history and lower than anywhere else in the world. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, U.S. food prices have risen faster than at any time since 1990, but Americans overall still spent less than 10% of their disposable income on food. The irony is that despite our country’s capability to feed the world, we still have very high food insecurity in our own country.

Americans have come to expect food to be cheap, and that’s not a good trend, although it’s understandable in a culture that values getting a good deal (as in paying less money for our goods). The artificially low prices of loss leaders become the standard in people’s minds, and they expect low prices at other times and other places. Most damaging of all: When something is cheap, people do not value it and they tend to waste a lot of it. Chrzan quotes figures of a 30% loss before food enters our refrigerators and most post-production waste is because of commercial standards of quality (such as uniform size and bright colors). She recalls reading an interview with star chef Thomas Keller (of The French Laundry, Per Se, Bouchon, Ad Hoc, and Bouchon Bakery) who revealed why there is little waste in his establishments. When he was in training and was assigned to kill a rabbit, he mismanaged his knife strokes and was mortified to realize that he had caused excess agony to the hapless creature. He thus vowed that “no animal would ever die in vain.” Food waste is a terrible disrespect to the farmers and their work.

Food advocate Michael Pollan outraged the American public when he proposed that we pay as much as $8 for a dozen eggs, but “when you think that you can make a delicious meal from two eggs, that’s $1.50. It’s really not that much when we think of how we waste money in our lives,” he said in the Wall Street Journal in 2010. Food crusaders (modern heroes in my book) can instead focus on increasing people’s access to good, pure food, as Chrzan does with her farmers’ market, instead of getting the best bargain deal. We’re privileged citizens and we should acknowledge our blessings and share our bounty with others.

Hannah Lee shops at farmers’ markets to support her heroes in the fields.